Notes to Self

sunflower and friend

One of the survivors, with a hitchhiker.

Sometimes we refer to gardening as the yearly crap-shoot; but whether things go wrong because of Mother Nature or at the hands of the gardeners themselves, it is always an opportunity to learn.

That being said, some years we learn more than others. ;-)

Supposition:
Planting beds of sunflowers and okra seeds on each side of the front porch steps is a great idea. It will look so wonderful!

Unless you have free range chickens.

Note to self #1:
Build a raised bed with a removable chicken wire cover to give those seeds and seedlings a chance to survive. Duh.

Supposition:
Planting the garlic in the area where the new dwarf fruit trees and berry shrubberies are will save space in the garden.
Makes sense, right?

Except that fruit trees and shrubs grow fast, suck up a lot of nutrients and create too much shade.

Note to self #2:
Remember Uncle Joe’s garlic bed and the best bulbs in the family? Garlic likes to be in the same space year after year. Sure, give it some bone meal and soak the cloves in moo poo tea, but follow his example. Build a permanent garlic-only bed.

Supposition:
Planting the brassicas near the grapevines will offer them some shade. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a very hot summer, we better not take a chance.

Note to self #3:
Since when did you start believing the Farmer’s Almanac? It never barely hit 90F all summer.
Plus, some people think grapes are detrimental to the brassicas. Strawberries are, so who knows? Better play it safer next year.

Supposition:
If you keep trying, eventually you will be able to grow an almond tree.

Okay, so the first one was eaten by deer, a learning experience.
The second was bought online, and arrived so extremely pruned it could not recover.
The third year a gourd plant growing nearby and rapidly upward latched on to the baby tree and took it with it, roots and all. A bizarre learning experience admittedly, but still a good one.
This year the tree was planted in a very good spot. Success?

Noooo! The tree was purchased last fall from a local big box store and never survived the winter.

Note to self #4:
Put on your big girl panties come spring and cart yourself off to a local nursery. Find a good almond tree. Ask questions about how to grow them. Learn what you need to learn.

Four trees have already been sacrificed, this is your last chance.

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Categories: How to Grow, Keeping up with the Joneses

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5 Ways to Handle Upcoming Light Frost

green tomatoes

Ready to ripen indoors.

Well, the weather forecasters are saying the F-word again.
Last year frost didn’t hit until the end of October, but we can’t always be that lucky.

Here are a few ways to handle your veggies with the cold temps coming:

1. Harvest them.

All of the heat loving crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, summer squashes and eggplant cannot handle the cold. Let them ripen indoors, use them up or preserve what you can for the winter.

2. Bring them indoors.

Potted plants can come inside and you get a wee bit more life from them. We have heard of people overwintering pepper plants and having them live for years.

We’re going to give it a try with one pepper plant and a transplanted eggplant.

We also have 3 tomato plants in the greenhouse, just to keep that fresh taste going longer. May as well, right?

jones gardening system

Inserting the plastic panels for frost protection.

3. Cover them.

You can use something as simple as a sheet, or more elaborate like our garden system. This picture is of the sweet potato bed in the original test system. The longer we can keep them alive, the better the harvest will be.

4. Let them be.

Many veggies can handle the cold. All of the cold weather crops will survive a light frost. These include peas, most greens, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, scorzonera and parsley.

If you’re not sure weather they will survive or not, one frost will answer that question. Just don’t allow the lettuce to fool you. It may look like it is dead in the morning, and then perk back up when the sun comes out.

5. Water them in.

This is something we have never tried, but it makes sense and is often recommended. Water your garden at ground level thoroughly before a frost is predicted. Presumably the wet soil will hold the warm temperatures longer, and release heat at the base of the plant, offering them some protection.

We have also heard, but have not tried, watering the garden again before the sun hits the plants, in effect washing the frost droplets off and helping the plants survive.

We have had sufficient success with the first four methods, so have not had to try the fifth.

Well, got to go harvest the grapes and make some juice.
Happy gardening!

Categories: extending the season, harvesting, techniques

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How to Grow Turnips

Similar to its relatives cabbage, broccoli and rutabagas, turnips are a cool season veggie.

Ready to harvest.

Ready to harvest.

They mature quickly so can be one of the first crops to harvest; and one of the last since they can take the cool fall temps.

These were planted at the end of July, as a succession crop when the potatoes were harvested. Of course we replenished the soil well first.

Here in the northeast area of the US, turnips, as well as a few other veggies, can be planted as late as September.

Turnips are pretty easy to grow, simply plant the seed about 1/2″ deep and water. The seeds are tiny so if need be just thin a few plants to about 2″ apart.

You can enjoy the greens in a salad or steamed, both from your thinnings as well as the mature veggie.
Don’t you love it when you get more from a veggie?

They have a mild flavor and are wonderful added to mashed potatoes, in soups, or simply braised or roasted.

There are other ways to use them as well…

The first three went into the Russian Sauerkraut. Mmmm...

The first three went into the Russian Sauerkraut. Mmmm…

Botanical Name: Brassica rapa
Yield: One veggie plus greens per seed planted.
Spacing: 2″
Days to maturity: 30-50
Hardiness: Can take some frost.
Storage: Refrigerate for a week or so if you leave some of the top on. Otherwise, dehydrate, freeze or pressure can. The greens can also be stored the same way.

Categories: How to Grow, turnips

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4 Levels of Snow Through the Eyes of a Gardener

snow storms to gardeners

The first and the last storms are the best storms.

What does snow mean to a gardener?
Well here in the mountains of northeast Pa., we are all quite familiar with snowstorms. Our first snow could come as early as the end of September, but more likely in October; and we have seen snow as late as mid-May.

Here our weather people refer to snow levels by some cute names:

1. A Dusting

This refers to a snowfall less than 3″ deep. The first one always looks nice, but other than that they are nothing to be concerned about.

2. A Nuisance

Snow accumulations of 3-6″ are not much more than a bother. It means you might need a broom to sweep a little path to the garden and wipe off your cold frames. You’ll still easily be able to harvest some mache and kale, and depending on the temperatures, possibly carrots as well.

3. Plow-able Snow

Once you hit 6″ and up to a foot, you are reminded of why your garden gate opens out rather than in. You’re going to need a snow shovel and maybe even a small snow blower to get into the garden. And don’t forget a path to the greenhouse, all that snow will be keeping it nice and insulated. If this is a spring snow, it’s a good sign you can start some seedlings.

4. Nor’easter AKA French Toast

When this is predicted all the locals, most of whom have all wheel drive and a plow on their vehicle, head out to the grocery stores and beverage centers; even though they really don’t need a thing. It is something of a social event.

It is tradition to buy milk, bread and eggs, hence the nickname. The truth of the matter is though that many have their own laying chickens, bake bread from scratch, and have well stocked larders.

These are the snowstorms when you can tell who is a gardener without looking at their land.

They’re just standing around in the produce section chatting with neighbors, and holding almost empty baskets.

They are the people obviously least concerned about the weather, because for the most part, it won’t affect them.

They’ll just hunker down in front of the fireplace, crack open a new jar of pickles, and peruse the latest seed catalogs.

Truth be told, gardeners are really just setting back and waiting while nature protects their bulbs, overwinters what needs the cold, and waters the garden.

And what a secure feeling it is.

Categories: Uncategorized

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9 Common Myths About Zucchini

zucchino rampicante

Not all zucchini are created equal.
Here are a few common thoughts about this misunderstood garden plant:

1. Zucchini are dark green.

The most common varieties of zucchini grown and seen in grocery stores are dark green, but there are a number of zucchini varieties that are different colors and even striped. Zucchini are squashes that were taken from America to Italy, developed there and brought back. They aren’t all green. Pictured above is Zucchino Rampicante, a beautiful shade of yellow.

2. Zucchini are very prolific.

They can be, and certainly the hybrids bred for market selling are. But most of the heirloom varieties produce far less. Here are two we favor.

3. Zucchini grow as a bush.

Again refer to the photo above. This zucchini is growing as a vine, as do a few other varieties. These are a great way to save space in the garden.

4. Zucchini are a summer squash.

Technically, yes. A squash is classified as a summer type if it has a thin skin. These are harvested throughout the summer and not stored fresh over the cooler months, as the thin skin will deteriorate too fast.

Conversely, winter squashes develop a thick skin by the end of the growing season, are generally harvested then, and stored in a cool area.

There are exceptions to every rule.

Some summer squashes, as is the case with the zucchini pictured, can develop a harder rind and then be treated as a winter squash.
Pretty neat, huh?

5. Zucchini are bland tasting.

The ones you buy at the market that have been grown primarily for high yield have a tendency to be bland, as do even ones developed for their productivity that you grow at home.
This is in comparison to some of the heirloom varieties that produce less, but IMHO are much better tasting zucchini.

Mandolin Jones, the cook, will only use heirloom types. Not that he is a foodie snob, he just doesn’t think the other zucchini are worth eating.

6. Zucchini should be picked at a certain size.

Some people who consider themselves zucchini connoisseurs will insist a zucchini be harvested at about 6-8 inches. Anyone who has ever grown one knows that their size can change a lot in one day.

It really depends on how you are going to use them. For a stir fry or ratatouille, sure the smaller size is better. Less or no seeds to deal with, and the veggie is more tender. For zucchini bread or especially if you are going to stuff the zucchini, you can or even need to have them bigger.

7. Zucchini can cross pollinate with other squashes.

They can, but only with other squashes that also have the botanical name Cucurbita pepo. This is a good example of why knowing the Latin name can help you. Other examples of Cucurbita pepo are pumpkins, crookneck, patty pan and acorn squash.

8. Zucchini are vegetables.

Technically, since they develop from an ovary, they are fruit. Not that this information changes anything, you’re certainly not going to toss them with some grapes and strawberries; but learning something new is good for your brain so we through it in here.

9. Zucchini cannot be frozen.

Obviously they can if you have the right equipment, or you wouldn’t be able to buy frozen zucchini. But for the home grower, freezing zucchini generally turns it to mush. Many people grate the zucchini, and freeze in the right quantities for zucchini bread. We have been freezing ours as zucchini burgers.
It’s all good and a wonderful way to have that fresh veggie taste all winter long.

Categories: How to Grow, squash

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How to Grow Flax for Beauty and for Seeds

True blue flax flowers.

Flax seeds from your garden? Yep, you can grow that!

Here’s a plant with a long growing history. In times gone by it was used not only to consume the seeds, but to weave clothes as well.
We’re not taking it quite that far though.

The beautiful feathery leaves on stems about 2-3 feet tall will produce an abundance of lovely ‘true blue’ flowers. Reason enough to plant flax.

flax seed pods

When the flowers dry they produce seed pods. Each pod will hold about 1/2 dozen seeds; not a lot if you use flax seed a great deal. But since you can tuck them into your flower beds, it can add up.

You can easily collect the pods when they begin to turn brown, as pictured above. To remove the seeds you can thresh by shaking them in a paper bag, or simply lightly crush the pods.

Note that you’re not going to get a lot of seed, but still it is fun and freshly homegrown is wonderful in teas and adds a lot of nutrition.

Harvested flax seeds

We’re thinking of hanging on to some of what we harvest this year to top some homemade rolls for our next family holiday gathering.

Of course, seeds will also be saved for next year’s planting. It’s always good to know you can grow some fabulous nutrition in amongst the daisies.

Flax Flowers with bee.

Flax flowers are self-pollinating, but the bees can sure help.

Botanical name: Linum usitatissimum
Germination time: 1-3 weeks, faster if kept moist.
Days to maturity: 90-100
Growth habit: 2-3 ft tall, full sun. Like good organic matter and frequent watering.
Height: 1.5-3 ft.
Hardiness: Considered an annual but may reseed.
Storage: Store dry in a cool place like other seeds.
Uses: In baking, as a substitute for eggs in some recipes, crushed as an oil or in tea.

you can grow that

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Categories: grains, herbs

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Perennial Parsnips Part 2

parsnsip seed heads

This experiment is already over a year in the making, having first planted the seeds in the spring of 2013.
Last April we looked at the beginnings of it, and what the plan was.

Basically, it is an effort to get a biennial root crop to reseed itself, thus making it one veggie we never need buy seeds for again; and to do that in a zone 5/6 region.

So far so good, though it has taken all summer.
We did what we planned and left 3 roots in the bed to flower and reseed.

collecting parsnip seeds

And man did they reseed! Not only is the bed full of wee babes, but we also have sufficient seed to share with our friends and kids.
If we repeat this experiment, one root will be enough to fill a 4×4 bed, and keep everyone in parsnips.

The main question now is whether the seedlings will be strong enough to survive the cold. They will get a splash of some Moo Poo Tea to insure great root growth and as a way to replenish the soil.
We may also give them some help with a cold frame cover and mulch, but the less we need to intervene the better.

parsnip seedlings

It is also very possible that the timing for this may be just a little off, and that eventually we will need to plant from seeds again.

Of course, if we continue to save them each year, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Now we are prepared to take what we have learned and see if we can get similar results with carrots.

You’ve got to love free veggies.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow, parsnips

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5 Lessons Learned at a Garlic Festival

garlic festival food

1. You can put garlic in anything.

Oh sure, we all know the most common foods, and this sign was just the beginning.

It went on from there to sauces, garlic-hot pepper jelly, oils and in case that wasn’t enough… garlic ice cream.

Yep, you read that right, and it was surprisingly not as bad as we expected.

2. That German White and Purple Stripe are two of the best varieties for colder climates.

Every farm stand that was selling garlic had at least these 2 selections. Both are hardneck and cold hardy, something we need here in the northeast and even up into Canada.

The Purple Stripe is also considered to be the ‘Grand-daddy of all garlic” in that it is thought to be the oldest type still around. Kind of neat, right?

How to freeze garlic.

3. You can freeze garlic.

And perhaps you should. Frozen garlic will hold its flavor better than refrigerated bulbs.

We never really thought about it before, but it does make sense. It certainly is easy enough to try.

4. That a garlic bed should be fertilized twice.

At planting time, here in zone 5/6 that is mid-October, and again when the ground thaws in the spring, add bone meal, blood meal and a fertilizer that is about 10-20-20. Of course that depends on your soil, but generally a good plan of action.

This summer we saw how well bone meal worked for our onions, so knew it would likewise be good for the garlic.

Garlic Viengar shots.

5. That some people will try anything.

Garlic is good for you, vinegar is good for you. Why not combine them, right?

Mandolin was just one of a number of people, men mostly, that tried the garlic vinegar. Perhaps it was the sign ‘More potent than Viagra’ that got their attention.

We’ll leave it at that. ;-D

Categories: gardening people, places & things, garlic

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3 Ways to Remove Kernels from Fresh Corn

corn kernel tools

2 possibilities.

We recently purchased 100 ears of corn from the local farmer and set about preserving it. Some of it was frozen on the cob, the rest we wanted to remove the kernels from the corn to can.

Here’s what we found with the tools we tested:

The one on the right made by Norpro we had heard about online. It did great for cream style corn, not so much for just kernels.

A similar tool made by Lee does much better, as you can see in this video.

The second tool is called The Corn Zipper. This one did a pretty good job of removing the kernels, although it tended to leave rows that had to be redone.

It also would have been very tedious with that many ears, but if you are just doing a few it is pretty handy.

Removing corn kernels using the Corn Zipper.

Since Mandolin Jones is a food service guy, he ended up just sharpening one of his knives and removing the kernels that way.

Removing corn kernels by a professional.

We did learn right away that this is very messy, so he soon took the process outside.

It is impressive how far that corn milk can splash!

Here is some of the finished product:

Home Food Preservation

Well worth the effort.

Categories: gardening people, places & things

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1 Problem with the Three Sisters of the Field

Three Sisters of the Field

It’s a jungle in there.

The Three Sisters of the Field is a traditional method for growing corn, squash and beans that was introduced to the pilgrims by the indigenous people of this country. It is gaining in popularity as more home growers learn about it.

Intercropping veggies in this way helps save space, cuts down on weeds, and the plants benefit each other.
It also looks wonderful.

There is just one wee problem.

Many gardeners don’t realize that this method is meant for dry beans, field corn, and winter squash.

If they plant sweet corn and pole beans, they will most likely run into this issue:

Three Sisters of the Field

Playing hard to get.

The beans can wrap themselves around the corn cobs so tightly that harvesting them can be difficult.

There are two ways to avoid this issue:

1. Plant the traditional method by using field corn and dry beans. This way, the corn and beans, along with the squash, are all harvested about the same time.

2. Change it up with sweet corn but use bush or half runner beans. You won’t have any interference harvesting your corn.

Keep in mind that half runner beans can take up a lot of space; if you use them consider planting a bush type squash such as acorn or most summer squash.

One lesson we learned the hard way, that you don’t have to.

Categories: gardening, techniques

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